The Clean Energy Finance Corporation has announced it will put $13 million towards a major expansion of the 1MW Uterne solar PV plant in the Northern Territory’s Alice Springs.
Uterne – a product of the former federal government’s $94 million Solar Cities program – is a solar PV tracking plant that supplies electricity to the local grid, which, in Alice Springs is mainly supplied by relatively expensive gas and diesel-fired generation.
The solar plant was developed by SunPower and then sold to privately-owned Australian renewables company, Epuron – one of Australia’s most successful wind farm developers. It was named Uterne from the local Arrernte language meaning “bright sunny day.” And though small compared to European examples, it remains one of the largest tracking solar power plants in the Southern Hemisphere.
The CEFC loan will allow the construction of Uterne 2, a 3.1 MW expansion to the existing 1MW plant – an quadrupling of the original facility that, presumably, will be welcomed by local utility, Power and Water Corporation (with which Uterne has a power purchase agreement), the utility having already expressed interest in doubling its off-take from Uterne back in 2012.
The CEFC says work on Uterne 2 is ready to start and will use the same solar-tracking technology as Uterne 1, which increases daily energy production by up to 30 per cent compared with conventional fixed-tilt installations.
Epuron executive director and co-founder Andrew Durran said expanding the existing Uterne facility made good business sense, but was too small a project to appeal to the commercial project finance market, and so relied on finance from the CEFC.
“The CEFC’s project financing model helps drive down transaction costs for smaller projects, helping to make them attractive to commercial project financing institutions. The potential for the future is in building pooled portfolios of smaller transactions which will be able to attract private sector interest,” CEFC CEO Oliver Yates said.
Yates said regional and remote Australia held huge “untapped potential” for large-scale solar, which could make a big difference in keeping energy costs down and boosting competitiveness.
The CEFC – which remains on the Abbott government’s clean energy chopping block – is currently finalising a number of solar investments which, along with Uterne, will take its total commitments to solar investments to nearly $250 million in utility, residential and commercial solar in Australia. It has a further $1.6 billion in potential projects seeking solar finance in its pipeline.